Taking the scenic route with Northern European itineraries

Destinations and cruise lines tell CFR about the charm of the region

Taking the scenic route with Northern European itineraries

Ambassador Cruise Line

Northern Europe, Fred. Olsen Cruise Line, Cruise Baltic, Ambassador Cruise Line

By Elly Yates-Roberts |

Cruising has long been praised for enabling passengers to visit a variety of destinations during one trip.  

Vessels are able to travel to a number of cities and countries in one itinerary, inviting guests to explore a range of landscapes, activities and cultures. This is as true in Northern Europe as it is anywhere else.  

“The Baltic Sea and Northern Europe region stands out because of the diversity in destinations,” says Ida Katrine Skaarup, manager of Cruise Baltic. “In a Baltic itinerary, visitors can experience multiple countries, up to five capitals, more than eight languages and a variety of cultures, each with its own history and traditions. There is something for everyone.” 

Many of the region’s destinations are not so well known by tourists, which gives cruise visitors a unique experience. “Where possible, we look to include interesting, lesser-known locations in our itineraries, which we hope will surprise and delight,” says Michelle Lupino, head of destination management at Ambassador Cruise Line.  

And Martin Lister, head of itinerary planning and destination experience at Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, agrees.  

“Northern Europe offers so many fantastic destinations to visit by cruise,” he says. “The region provides great scenery, from the Swedish archipelago to Norway’s fjords. In addition, so many of the towns and cities are rich in history and allow our guests to experience really contrasting cultures. In northern Norway, for example, our guests can spend time with the indigenous Sami communities to learn more about their way of life.”  

However, there are other considerations for cruise lines visiting the region. “Our itinerary planners factor in many things, including location, berth or anchorage position, and proximity to the town centre and local attractions,” says Lupino. “In order for our guests to have the best cruising experience with us, it’s important that we include ports of call that provide easy access to popular attractions.”  

For Ambassador Cruise Line, these attractions include Norway’s fjords, featured in the line’s Fjordland cruises, as well as some of the hidden gems of Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. “Destination experiences are very important as they give our guests the opportunity to enjoy attractions and visit areas that are not always easily accessible by air or on package holidays,” says Lupino. “We work closely with our local agents to deliver cultural experiences and ethical and sustainable options.”  

Like in most other industries, sustainability has become a key theme in improving business operations and meeting customer demand. To deliver on this, Cruise Baltic and its member ports have been creating more sustainable shore excursion options for cruise guests. “For example, many of our Baltic destinations offer bike tours to see the local landscape,” says Skaarup. “Some ports also encourage visitors to travel by river and in the archipelagos, both for tours and as an alternative to road transport. Others have also developed tours with electric and solar-powered boats.”  

These strategies not only promote more environmentally friendly activities, but also improve guest experiences, for example by enabling them to visit places that are less crowded with tourists. “It impacts cruise guests and locals, so our destination partners have been developing more shore excursions outside city centres,” adds Skaarup.  

This focus on slow tourism has been particularly encouraged by small cruise operators, including Fred. Olsen. “We know that our guests want to have real experiences when they travel with us,” says Lister. “They don’t want mass-market tours or to battle large crowds, instead they’re looking to experience different cultures and immerse themselves in the history and the beauty of the places they’re visiting.” 

A great example of this in Isafjordur, Iceland, where Fred. Olsen’s passengers can meet with local farmers to gain an insight into life in one of the most remote parts of Iceland.  

“Guests visiting this part of the world with us are pretty adventurous, and really want to have new and unique experiences while they are there,” says Lister. “Our journey planners take great pride in hand-crafting each itinerary, ensuring guests can get the most out of each sailing and destination. Northern Europe is ideal for this, with so many fantastic experiences, from witnessing natural phenomena such as the midnight sun or northern lights, venturing into the Arctic Circle in the height of winter, or exploring some majestic cities rich in culture and history.” 

Logistical challenges are a key part of the itinerary planning process too; something that tourism boards and port authorities are becoming privy to. “The time from the port to the city centre is very important for the cruise line to deliver a great guest experience, but also for the destination as the ship may only be in port for a few hours,” says Skaarup. “Every single minute in a traffic jam equates to lost revenue for the local community.” 

As such, Cruise Baltic is encouraging visiting operators to opt for overnight stays in the region. “So far we have succeeded,” adds Skaarup. “We’ve seen a large increase between 2017 and 2019.” 

While the ports of call are clearly key in any itinerary, some cruise lines also invest a lot of energy into the journey. “It’s not just the ports themselves that we consider, but also the scenery when sailing to and from each destination,” says Lister. “At Fred. Olsen, we believe in the joy of the journey, and know some of the best views are those that can be seen from the water.  

“We don’t sail directly from A to B – we love taking the scenic route and will always make the time to showcase each destination’s natural beauty. It will come as no surprise that our programme features plenty of calls into our homeland Norway, where we can sail right into the heart of the fjords and offer breathtaking scenery direct from our smaller ships.”

This article was first published in the 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door. 

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